The role of the whistleblower, and the practice of exposing secrets for the greater good, has always played an important role in history. But perhaps it’s risen to even greater value over the past few years, as the depth and breadth of information and data (and the technologies used to access and parse it) has grown even more vast. NoisyLeaks! The Art of Exposing Secrets elevates the act to new heights, through the lens of Julian Assange’s seminal WikiLeaks organization. Shortly after the opening of NoisyLeaks!, we sat down with the show’s curators to learn more about the origins of the show, the works included, and what’s next.
Where did the idea for this show arise?
We are a group of personal friends of Assange, wondering how to help him. Our common goal was to tell a wider and deeper story than the one usually told (when the media even dares to talk about his case!) The question is not whether or not Julian Assange is a journalist, whether he should be extradited to the US for espionage, or if revealing war crimes in Iraq or Afghanistan “endangered” the lives of US soldiers and their informants. [Instead[, the story we wanted to paint goes to the roots of WikiLeaks: an organization of activists and journalists who wanted to change the face of journalism and the face of the world – and in great part succeeded. It is a story of telling truth to power and challenging power. It is a story about war, peace, human rights abuses, corporate secrecy, surveillance, espionage, a free Internet, censorship, fighting censorship, and organizing online. It is a sort of story that encompasses all these stories, comprised of dreams as well as sad, hard facts.
The field of the arts is one in which you are allowed to draw such epic and complicated stories. We therefore decided to create an exhibition that would focus on the leaks, on the work of WikiLeaks, its achievements, and its substance, rather than “merely” demanding the freedom of Assange.
When we reached out to artists around us, big and small, we were humbled by their unanimous response: “Yes, of course we will do it!” We are overwhelmed by the number and the quality of the works they contributed. The whole is so much better than the sum of its parts!
We did not want to produce a “standard” exhibition that could be easily consumed, where people would enter, spend a few minutes, and leave.
Stella Assange, Julian’s wife, is doing an AMA as part of the program. How did you originally get in contact with her? Has she (or Julian) given any feedback on the show, or did they play any role in its curation or organization?
Julian has been a friend of some of the members of our team for more than 10 years. The Assange family had no role in the curation, but of course common friends were involved at various stages.
Can you tell us a bit more about the organizers?
Some of the organizers prefer to stay anonymous.
Juan Passarelli is an investigative journalist and filmmaker who spent the last decade documenting WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.
Angela Richter is a German–Croatian theater director and author. Richter has often made work with and about publishers and whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In 2012 her play Assassinate Assange premiered in Hamburg, and was subsequently shown in Berlin, Cologne, and Vienna.
Some artists (and activists) purposefully remain anonymous (and in some cases, to the point where it’s unclear if they’re acting as individuals or a collective). How did you approach the curation of this show with the fact that some of the most meaningful voices in the space couldn’t be easily identified or even contacted?
We did not want to produce a “standard” exhibition that could be easily consumed, where people would enter, spend a few minutes, and leave. On the contrary, we wanted to engage everyone to participate, not only in the expo itself, but in a long series of events. We are dealing here with a great complexity: one of the (if not THE) major legal cases of the century, involving five jurisdictions, and more than 10 years of hard facts and gross misinformation.
In a way, the expo is “just” the front for something bigger, deeper. This is reflected in the curation of the works, where some of us are partly organizers, partly curators, partly artists. The boundaries here have been blurred, like between reality and fiction when it comes to reading the world and the Assange case. We are somehow “hacking” the standard social roles, as part of a global strategy that resonates with the original objectives of WikiLeaks.
What piece(s) in the show are especially meaningful to you and why?
I personally like how so many different aspects of the history of WikiLeaks is being covered: the Afghanistan War Logs (revealing brutal war crimes and contempt for the life of civilians by the US army), Cablegate (the leaked diplomatic cables revealing massive corruption at the highest level and a sort of “black market” for crimes and influence around the US), Vault 7 (the unregulated “cyber-weapons” of the CIA, allowing them to infiltrate cars, “smart TVs”, and every mobile phone and laptops, while leaving traces making them look like China, Russia or Iran, etc.), The Julius Baer Leaks (about the industrialization of tax evasion), etc.
Are there plans to continue this show beyond Berlin/beyond October?
There are plans to show it in London and the US.
What were some of the most interesting crowd interactions you had at the opening?
They are too numerous to tell! It was pleasant to see a young generation, who were potentially 10, 5, or even 2 years old when the major WikiLeaks revelations were published. Groups of people were paying immense attention to some of the works, spending lots of time in front of them despite a dense crowd. Many precise questions were asked… But also practical ones like “what can we do to help Julian?” that often found their answer in invitations to subsequent events in our dense schedule.
The idea behind the expo and its events is to create for ourselves, our friends, and supporters (and potential new ones) a time and space to meet, to discuss, to plan, and to invent new things. It felt like the energy was definitely there at the vernissage. It felt like our public really needed the story of WikiLeaks to be somehow “rebooted”.
It seemed appropriate to use the arts to somehow draw our own line between reality and fiction.
Our relationship with and knowledge of classified information, government, and whistleblowers has changed significantly since 2006. What changes have you seen in this space over the past few years (since some of the work in the show was created a decade ago), especially in regard to recent events in Ukraine, the US, etc? Do you feel that any of the older pieces in the show particularly speak to (or portend) what’s happening now?
The world is now fed on story-telling, with every piece of information being carefully engineered by think tanks and other PR companies: it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish reality and disinformation. They somehow intertwine and feed each other. Again, it seemed appropriate to use the arts to somehow draw our own line between reality and fiction, and in some way, invent our own story-telling!
The image of WikiLeaks has been consistently smeared, sabotaged, over the years, in order for its opponents to attempt to kill its vision and objectives. We wanted to bring WikiLeaks’ vision to the front of the stage, and to show the world that it is even more valid and needed today than it was in 2010.
Were there any pieces specially commissioned for this show?
Two pieces by Daniel Richter, one by Sarah Lucas, one by AFK, by ChallengePower, two by the Institute for Dissent and Datalove, one by the !Mediengruppe Bitnik, two by Davide Dormino, one by the Chicks on Speed, and one by Melissa Logan, the “collateral mixtape”, are all original artworks.
What do you want Berliners to take away from this show?
A whole bunch of posters, flyers, and a desire to come again and join moments and initiatives aiming at furthering common objectives: to act for a world where we are free to publish, where journalists who reveal war crimes are not tortured and send in the worst jails in the world, where war criminals are prosecuted, and where we can all collectively make sense of facts and the world around.